It may seem hard for some to believe that politics and policy can be really interesting and even addictive. But people in this town understand it. This is, as a humor magazine once scoffed, a town full of student council presidents. Policy wonks and political junkies flock to this town, many of them as Capitol Hill or administration aides, to play the game at the highest level.
And some truly can make a difference, for good or ill, depending on your viewpoint about a particular issue. Often, after the House or Senate completes work on a particularly challenging piece of legislation, you’ll hear lawmakers credit staff members for the work they did.
Capitol Hill newspapers like Roll Call and The Hill even profile and rank some of the most powerful staff members. But most of those people are still obscure, outside of the small town that is Capitol Hill.
Few of the unelected get to play at as high a level and get as much notoriety as Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff who announced today that he’ll resign at the end of August.
The so-called architect of President Bush’s gubernatorial wins in Texas and his White House victories, Rove was also involved in forming and pushing the president’s agenda.
White House “advisers” typically don’t have the profile Rove has had. Some of that is due to his involvement in recent scandals, the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name and the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.
But he was well-known here long before those scandals emerged, through his involvement in politics and policy.
I remember Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, telling me that, when he was at the end of his rope trying to get FEMA aid for people who lost property to wildfires in Oklahoma, he went to Rove and told him that helping the state would be good politics and good policy.
A lot that’s been written and said about Rove is probably myth that will be revised many times.
Whether his departure makes any real difference this late in Bush’s presidency remains to be seen. Rove seemed to be more of an offensive coordinator, and the White House is playing a lot of defense now.
It’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to leave the game totally behind. Some people who come up here get disillusioned or burned out, their idealism beaten into cynicism. But others thrive on the conflict, the victories small and large, the need to prove yourself time and again.
Chris Casteel, Washington Bureau